As a whole, the St. Louis Blues are meeting and exceeding everyone's expectations. January 4th's 6-2 blowout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets ensured that this year's Blues team set the mark for the best record through 41 games in team history (29-7-5 for 63 points). How much can you complain about a team with the second most home wins in the Western Conference, or a team that just finished the longest active winning streak in the NHL at seven games? How about a goal differential of +62, the best in the league (by a margin of 19 goals) from a team whose offense many had been questioning?
One of the main issues for the Blues had been maintaining a successful penalty kill. It has vacillated between not bad to not particularly good to clicking on all levels. It's at 84.4% right now, which is a testament to its improvement. The most obvious issue that the team has had are slow starts/taking a period off. Sometimes they just don't play the first period. Sometimes it's the second. Sometimes, as it was in Calgary before the Christmas break, it's the third. This really needs to improve before the team gets too complacent. It's easy to say "oh, they win regardless, and they've only lost a few because of it..." but that's the start of a bad habit, and a bad habit that will cost you a playoff series.
I want to give the Blues an overall grade of an A, I really do, but because of the fact that playing a full 60 minutes is difficult for these guys, I'll have to go with an A-.
The Blues have two goalies. One of these goalies, a starter, has been putting up very middle-of-the-road numbers this year and has struggled at several points this season. The other goaltender, who some refer to as a 1B goalie, and who some call a backup, has only lost two games in regulation this season out of 17.
I feel much more comfortable with the 1A/1B set up than a lot of people, because Jaroslav Halak is capable of owning games, such as his 5-0 shutout against the Calgary Flames on January 9th. He also worked his ass off this postseason, so he gets an A for effort and intent. His performance this year has been unpredictable at times, and his .911 save percentage has him 26th of goalies with 20 or more starts, behind Detroit's oft-injured Jimmy Howard. His 2.31 goals against average is 13th among goalies with 20 or more starts. He's been middle of the pack this year, benefiting from the Blues' offense sometimes, and other times throwing in a stellar performance.
Brian Elliott has been more consistent this year. Riding his own personal seven game winning streak into the Blues 2-1 loss at Vancouver, Elliott is second in the league with a 1.89 goals against average, and is 15th in the league overall among goaltenders with 10 or more starts (ninth overall with goalies who have 20 or more starts) with his .925 save percentage. Elliott has picked up from his record-setting April performance.
Overall the two make for a fairly reliable goalie tandem. Elliott's performance in net raises their overall grade to a B+. Halak alone I would consider a B-, while Elliott gets an A.
Good lord, what to say here. Has any defenseman not lived up to expectations? Not counting Jordan Leopold, who missed a significant amount of time, they've all performed better and better as the season has progressed. Half the top six (Jay Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo, and Kevin Shattenkirk) are Olympians, and one - Roman Polak - damn well should've been. Many of us cringed when the Blues brought back Carlo Colaiacovo out of necessity, but he and Ian Cole have been a very solid third pairing while Leopold and Polak both were out. Leopold's return has assigned Cola to the press box. Polak is skating with the team again, so this doesn't necessarily bode well for Ian Cole's short-term future. Cole signed a one-way deal just like Colaiacovo did, so it looks like they'll be hanging out eating press box pretzels and waiting for the next guy to go down.
The Blues have the third lowest goals allowed a game at 2.20, and while the goaltending deserves credit, so does the smart defense from the back on out. They allow the second fewest shots a game on average, 26. The Blues have a .900 winning percentage when leading after one period. How do you give the defense anything lower than an A?
When you look at the forwards as a whole, it's impressive. Every line contributes in their way. The fourth line of Magnus Pääjarvi, Max Lapierre, and Ryan Reaves generate chances, give goalies some offensive pressure that they might not expect from the fourth line, and Reaves being back adds a significant deal of grit to the club. The Blues' 4th line also has scored 11 goals so far on the season (Lapierre has six of those ), which is a significant number for a team's bottom three.
Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy and Chris Stewart are going to make us put our money where our mouths are? Why? #RoyWatch, of course! Roy has eight goals and 22 assists and the season's halfway done. Sixty points wouldn't be out of the question. Chris Stewart had a slow start, but seems to have hit his stride, picking up 15 goals, which is good for third on the team. Brenden Morrow has lost a step, but everyone expected that. He has seven goals so far this year, and is a tough opponent for other teams to deal with.
Words cannot praise the second line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, and Patrik Berglund enough. Tarasenko has been scoring like fans hoped he would after a promising first half of last season. He's even not been scoring and doing amazing things. Witness:
Obviously the top line du jour of Jaden Schwartz, David Backes, and T.J. Oshie doesn't need much analysis other than they're excellent. Schwartz had an eight game point streak at one point this season, and currently leads the NHL in +/- at +24. T.J. Oshie and David Backes are in the Olympics for a reason. And injured forward Alexander Steen (who is skating again like Polak) still leads the team with 24 goals. His days of leading the league in goals are over, which makes it a little sad to wonder what this season would be like if he hadn't gotten concussed. Regardless, he's having a fine season by any standard - just ask his new contract.
It's hard to find much room for the forwards to improve from where they're at now. As I stated at the start of this, they need to work on consistency and playing a full three periods, because holy shit, they're scary enough now. You have to give them a good grade. I'll go with an A-.
You might notice that I didn't review individual players. That's your job - I'm interested to see what you would give the guys. Is there anyone that gets low marks with the team playing this well? I grade enough during my day job - now it's your turn.